India’s solar capacity: Achievements and Challenges

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    In News 

    According to the Minister for New and Renewable Energy, Only one-fourth of sanctioned solar power projects have been commissioned so far.

    Potential of Solar Energy 

    • The Sun has been worshipped as a life-giver to our planet since ancient times and the industrial ages gave us the understanding of sunlight as an energy source.
    • India is endowed with vast solar energy potential. 
    • Solar photovoltaic power can effectively be harnessed providing huge scalability in India.
    •  Solar also provides the ability to generate power on a distributed basis and enables rapid capacity addition with short lead times. 
    • Off-grid decentralized and low-temperature applications will be advantageous from a rural electrification perspective and meet other energy needs for power and heating and cooling in both rural and urban areas. 
    • From an energy security perspective, solar is the most secure of all sources, since it is abundantly available. 

    Commitments 

    • Based on a commitment to address the global climate crisis, India has promised to source nearly half its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 and, in the shorter term, a source at least 60% of its renewable energy from solar power
    • India had committed to installing 175,000 MW of renewable energy by 2022 of which 100,000 MW was to be solar power
      • As of October 2022, 61,000 MW of solar power had been installed so far.

    Milestones 

    • Solar energy-based decentralized and distributed applications have benefited millions of people in Indian villages by meeting their cooking, lighting, and other energy needs in an environment-friendly manner. 
    • The social and economic benefits include a reduction in drudgery among rural women and girls engaged in the collection of fuel wood from long distances and cooking in smoky kitchens, minimization of the risks of contracting lung and eye ailments, employment generation at the village level, and ultimately, the improvement in the standard of living and creation of opportunity for economic activities at village level. 
    • Further, the solar energy sector in India has emerged as a significant player in the grid-connected power generation capacity over the years
    • It supports the government agenda of sustainable growth, while, emerging as an integral part of the solution to meet the nation’s energy needs and an essential player for energy security.

    Government Initiatives 

    • National Solar Mission (NSM) was launched in 2010. 
      • It is a major initiative of the Government of India with active participation from States to promote ecologically sustainable growth while addressing India’s energy security challenges.
    • For promoting solar energy in the residential sector, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is implementing Rooftop Solar Programme Phase-II. 
      • Under this Programme, 4000 MW rooftop solar (RTS) capacity addition is targeted in the residential sector through Central Financial Assistance (CFA).
    • In addition to an impressive domestic track record, through the International Solar Alliance (ISA) established by India and France at COP-21 in 2015, there is a global platform to bring countries together to facilitate collaboration on issues such as mobilising investments, capacity building, program support and advocacy and analytics on solar energy.
    • Other Initiatives 
      • Permitting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) up to 100 percent under the automatic route,
      • Waiver of Inter-State Transmission System (ISTS) charges for inter-state sale of solar and wind power for projects to be commissioned by 30th June 2025,
      • Setting up of Ultra Mega Renewable Energy Parks to provide land and transmission to RE developers on a plug and play basis,
      • Schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM- KUSUM), 12000 MW CPSU Scheme Phase II, etc.,
      • Laying of new transmission lines and creating new sub-station capacity under the Green Energy Corridor Scheme for evacuation of renewable power,
      • Government has issued orders that power shall be dispatched against Letter of Credit (LC) or advance payment to ensure timely payment by distribution licensees to RE generators.
      • Conducting skill development programmes to create a pool of skilled manpower for setting up, operation and maintenance of RE projects.

    Challenges 

    • Despite significant growth in the installed solar capacity, the contribution of solar energy to the country’s power generation has not grown at the same pace.
    • The utility-scale solar PV sector continues to face challenges like land costs, high T&D losses and other inefficiencies, and grid integration challenges.
    •  There have also been conflicts with local communities and biodiversity protection norms. 
      • “Environmental issues” in Rajasthan and Gujarat, where projects have been halted because their transmission lines encroach upon the habitat of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard.
    • Challenges in acquiring land with a clear title, and setting up the infrastructure necessary.
    • The halt in economic activity due to COVID-19.  
    • There is limited financing for residential consumers and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who want to install RTS. 

    Suggestions and Conclusion 

    • As India attempts to deal with some of the shortcomings identified above, India’s solar story will continue to provide important lessons for other developing countries that are looking to transition to clean energy.
    • Technology sharing and finance could also become important aspects of ISA in the future, allowing meaningful cooperation between countries in the solar energy sector
    • Governments, utilities, and banks will need to explore innovative financial mechanisms that bring down the cost of loans and reduce the risk of investment for lenders.
    •  Increased awareness and affordable finance for RTS projects could potentially ensure the spread of RTS across the scores of SMEs and homes around the country. 
    • Aggregating roof spaces could also help reduce the overall costs of RTS installations and enable developing economies of scale.
    • India should also continue to expand its economy on the back of renewable energy, the Government must take a hard look at whether renewable power, solar, wind, or nuclear, meets standards of economic viability and environmental sustainability. 

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Despite significant growth in the installed solar capacity, the contribution of solar energy to India’s power generation has not grown much. Comment